When asked about the growing women’s empowerment movement at the recent Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, GPE Board Chair Julia Gillard replied:
“Empowering a woman starts with educating a girl. If we aren’t educating every girl on the planet there is no way we can achieve this vision for female empowerment.”
Globally girls are more likely to be excluded from school, and face multiple barriers to education. These include distance to school, cultural norms and practices, school-related gender-based violence and early or forced marriage.
Yet, educating girls can have an incredible impact on societies, lifting families and communities out of poverty, improving health outcomes and civil rights for future generations.
These 8 stories of girls around the world highlight the progress that has been made in recent years and the challenges we still need to address on our path to gender equality.
Sier Leap, Cambodia
When we met Sier Leap in 2015, she was in 9th grade. She used to struggle in school because she couldn’t see the blackboard clearly and hence couldn’t understand what the teacher was explaining.
She was one of approximately 13,000 Cambodian students that benefitted from a vision screening pilot project in schools, which is being scaled up thanks to a GPE grant. Since she received glasses through the program, Sier Leap has been doing much better in school and hopes to become a lawyer.
Girls with disabilities face the greatest barriers to education.
Juliana, Cote d’Ivoire
Juliana, the daughter of two cocoa farmers in Mamakoffikro, Cote d’Ivoire, is the first girl in her family to go to school.
In Cote d’Ivoire, only 87 girls for every 100 boys are in school. Since schooling became compulsory in 2015 for all children aged 6 to 16, attitudes have been changing. In the words of Juliana’s teacher, “Parents now understand that both girls and boys need to go to school to succeed in all aspects of life.”
Juliana would like to become a teacher. She has 3 younger siblings who are going to follow in her footsteps and get an education too.
Brishna, 9, lives in Helmand, one of the most volatile regions in Afghanistan. She has always wanted to go to school, but there wasn’t one in her village and poverty and cultural barriers were keeping her family from prioritizing her education.
A GPE-funded program recruited, trained and deployed qualified female teachers and helped establish 249 community-based classes, one of which Brishna now attends.
“I am happy because I can learn now. I have learned how to offer prayer and my feeling of happiness doubled when I first wrote Kalima [the Islamic declaration of faith] on paper”.
18-year-old Bibisharifa Talbizoda recently graduated from secondary school in the Jaloliddini Balhi district in Tajikistan and is working to become a professional dressmaker and open her own business.
Bibisharifa discovered a talent for sewing during her school days, when she used to help her mother sew dresses after she finished her homework. Spurred on by her teachers, she participated in a local economics competition and won.
“My teacher has been always by my side and supported me during these competitions. My next goal is to attend design school.”
Bendu is 14 and in 2nd grade at her school in Liberia. She didn’t start school until she was 10, because her family couldn’t afford exam fees. Schools in Liberia are tuition-free, but some charge informal fees to offset operating costs.
Furthermore, Bendu often gets sent home because she is tardy. Her aunt and grandmother don’t let her leave the house until she is finished with her chores.
“Before I can go to school I have to sweep the house, wash the dishes, haul water and clean all of the rooms. My cousin used to live here and we would do all of these things together. But now it’s only me. I wake up at 5 am and sometimes I am still not finished by the time I need to leave for school. And I am not allowed to leave until all the work is done. When I tell my grandmother, I have to go or I’m going to be late, she just says, ‘That’s your problem. You figure it out.’
As a child, Rumana didn’t go to school and so she didn’t learn to read or write. In 2016 she was 26 years old and had just started 7th grade.
When she became a mother, she realized that she couldn’t help her children with their homework or answer their questions. So she decided to learn and go to school.
Rumana and Madga, her best friend, started a small ice cream business to earn money to cover their school fees. They continue to sell ice cream, take care of their families and go to school.
Precious and Shabiba, Uganda
Shabiba, 13, and Precious, 9, live in a one room house with their two younger siblings, Macky, 3, and Massy, 1. Their mother is usually away, working on a farm to provide for her four young children.
Every morning, Shabiba and Precious wake at sunrise and start the process of getting ready for school. They sweep the front step, fetch water and scrub the dinner dishes on the front step of their home. They take turns waking the little ones and washing their faces and feet with whatever water is left in the canister. Next, they help each other put on their school uniforms and grab their bookbags. The four children walk together down a long dirt road to drop Macky and Massy off at a neighbors’ house. Nobody has breakfast.
In Uganda, universal primary education (UPE) covers seven years of free school. They can get lunch at school only if their mother has paid that semester’s fees. Their teacher, James, worries the most about Shabiba, a smart and dedicated student. She has one more year attending a “UPE” school and then her future is unknown. She desperately wants to go to upper secondary school but it is unlikely her mother will be able to afford it.